By TOM GODFREY
U.S. educator and social activist Dr. Angela Davis loves Canada and was at home in Toronto with hundreds of union and human rights activists, who gave her a rousing welcome.
More than 400 members of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) packed a hall at the Toronto Convention Centre last Sunday in awe of Davis and to hear her address their human rights conference.
“The people of Canada has been good to me over the years and have given me a lot of support,” Davis told cheering fans. “I was facing the death penalty in the U.S. and I received so much support from the movement up here.”
Davis, 73, was in Winnipeg earlier in the week where a film Free Angela and all Political Prisoners was screened. It depicts her struggles from a California philosophy professor to a political icon in the turbulent late 1960s.
The author and speaker was born in Birmingham, Alabama and is best known as a radical African American educator and activist for civil rights and other social issues.
She is a former member of the Black Panthers and an all-black branch of the Communist Party, who over time has met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, visited Russia, West Germany and was at one time on a list of the FBI’s “Top 10 Most Wanted.”
“That was a time when Richard Nixon was president, Ronald Reagan was Governor of California and J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the FBI,” Davis told the convention. “I could have been dead if not for the public support of the people around the world.”
She tours the globe speaking on a range of social problems tied to incarceration and the criminalization of at-risk communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination.
Davis knew all about prejudice from her experiences growing up in Alabama. As a teen, she organized interracial study groups, which were broken up by police and knew several of the four young girls killed in a Ku Klux Klan 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
She loved teaching and became a professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and was fired by the administration due to her ties to communism and the Panthers.
Davis threw her support behind three black inmates of Soledad prison who were accused of killing a guard. She later charged for aiding in a botched escape attempt of radical George Jackson, and served about 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. A judge and three others were killed in a 1970 armed takeover of the Marin County courthouse after supporters tried to free Jackson.
The charges against Davis led to a cross-country manhunt by the FBI, who arrested her on October 1970 in New York City.
Thousands of people from across the U.S. began organizing a movement to gain Davis’ release from prison. By February 1971 more than 200 committees in the U.S., and 67 in foreign countries, worked to free Davis. There were protests songs seeking her release written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. She was released on $10,000 bail.
Davis popularized the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” but now urges her audiences to think about a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.
Her membership in the Communist Party led Reagan in 1969 to attempt to have her barred from teaching at any university in that state. She was twice a candidate for vice-president of the party and supported the Soviet Bloc for several decades.
Today, she is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches courses on the history of consciousness. Davis is the author of nine books, including Women, Race, and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete?
CLC executive vice-president Marie Clarke Walker told her members there has been a rise in human rights issues in racialized communities in recent years.
“Our work is far from over,” Walker promised. “This is just the beginning of the hard work that we have to do.”
The CLC convention takes place every three years and runs all week.
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